"Catching Hell" Raises Bigger Issues Than Steve Bartman

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2011

CHICAGO - FEBURARY 26: The infamous cursed Chicago Cubs foul baseball from the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins on display in it's last intact resting place at Harry Caray's Restaurant before being destroyed on February 26, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois.  The alleged curse comes from a play during the NLCS where Luis Castillo of the Marlins hit a foul ball that Cubs fan Steve Bartman touched. This prevented Cubs' leftfielder Moises Alou from catching the ball which would have been the 2nd out of the 8th inning, instead the Marlins started a rally and went on to win the game, which forced a game 7 that the Marlins also won, on their way to becoming World Series Champs.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Catching Hell was an utterly captivating documentary which detailed the events surrounding Steve Bartman. While it was a documentary ostensibly about Bartman, it was about anyone, and it was about everyone.

More crucial than the details of whether it was fan interference or not and the incident itself, the film focused on the reactions of various people who were around the incident. That far more compelling story was a statement of society, not just Bartman, or Moises Alou or Chicago. 

Just as Bartman could have been any one of us, it could have been any stadium, and any one of us could have been among the thousands caught in a mob mentality, scapegoating a man who did nothing more than try and catch a foul ball. 

It is ironic that in the entire story there are essentially only two people who were without fault, and of the two, only Bartman was asking whether he had done anything wrong. (The other was the security guard who helped him "escape" after the game and even let him hide out in her own house!)

As the movie revealed, as the fans were berating him, Bartman asked his friends, "Do you think I did anything wrong?"

Bartman didn't do anything wrong. Let's be honest. If it is another game, another inning, another score, then we have no idea who he is. It is, at best, barely fan interference, if it is that at all. Even if it were, though, there clearly no intention of interfering. 

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And even if it is, then the umpire, Mike Everitt, should have determined it was and then awarded the Cubs with an out. So even if you do hold that the play cost the Cubs their World Series trip, it's Everitt, not Bartman, who dropped the ball. 

It was an easy mistake. He was looking up at the ball, not out. One of the nearby fans attested that at the last second, the wind blew the ball back in. Literally, all but one fan within reach of the ball was trying to make a grab for it. The one who wasn't was, by her own admission, trying to avoid being trampled. 

A couple inches to the right, and we would be talking about the Pat Looney ball. 

This seems to be a point lost on many Cubs fans who still want to wallow in hatred of a man they've never met. It wouldn't hurt some of them to ask themselves the same question, "Did I do anything wrong?"

There was the unknown fan who picked up the ball and held it triumphantly as he faced away from the field, missing the tantrum thrown by Alou. He held on to the ball and later made $113,824.16, selling it to be destroyed. 

It's ironic that the ball which bore his name was never held by the man for whom it was named, much less owned by him. I have little doubt that Bartman, who has received over $200,000 in offers to monopolize on his unfortunate fame and turned them all down, would have donated the ball to be destroyed. 

The man who grabbed the ball and sold it offers no apology. He could be well served to ask the question if he did anything wrong as well. 

There are the "friends" whom Bartman apparently not only came to the game with, but even paid for their tickets, who deserted Bartman, leaving him literally in mortal jeopardy. Certainly they should have asked themselves that question. 

There's Moises Alou, who threw a temper tantrum, rather than acting like a Major League baseball player and a grown man. It could just as easily be argued that his tantrum, not the Bartman incident, is what blew the series for Chicago.

It was the start of the negative energy, which the fans fed off of, then magnified to the players, who in turn made negative play after negative play. Maybe if Alou just shakes off the play, Alex Gonzalez fields the ball cleanly? 

Perhaps Alou should have asked himself whether his reaction was the appropriate one. 

There were the fans at the game, eager to find someone, anyone, to blame for the misfortune. The anger and furry directed towards Bartman was completely uncalled for. "Fans" threw drinks at him and threatened his life. 

Really? Trying to catch a foul ball that is on the wall is worthy of death?

Certainly, every person who chanted "that word" should be asking themselves if they did anything wrong. 

Those who threw things at him, who threatened him, who chased him out of his seats shouldn't even need to ask themselves. 

Then there were those who came after the game. The paper that printed his name and address. Those who stalked his house looking for a story. The governor who promised he would never give him a pardon if he landed in jail while he was governor (could there be more irony?).

Mobs don't often repent their mentality or take personal culpability. It's easier to either blame the offender or the mob. It's a far more difficult task to admit to be influenced by what we would rather not be influenced by. 

Every Chicagoan who has had a negative thing to say about Bartman before or since should ask themselves if they did anything wrong. 

I would say it's time to stop blaming Bartman or time to forgive him. Neither of those is accurate though. He is in no need of forgiveness, and he never should have been blamed. It's time to start apologizing. How can you apologize, though, if you aren't willing to ask if you did anything wrong? 

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